Five Stars: Doncaster Rovers' Best Players in the 21st Century
It has been a meteoric rise through the divisions for Doncaster Rovers over the past decade or so. Rovers fan Lee Croft picks his favourite five players from a glorious period for the Keepmoat club.
After what is possibly seen as the most successful decade or so in Doncaster Rovers Football Club’s history, with promotion to the Football League via the first-ever Conference play-offs, winning the League Two title, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and defeating Leeds United at Wembley to stake a place in the Championship for the first time in 50 years, who have been the real stars? The players that have stood out amongst all others? Who are the top five greatest players to have worn the red and white hoops in the last 11 years?
Beating the likes of Barnes, Heffernan, Hayter and Blundell, Sharp gets the final spot in my top five players as possibly the best striker we have ever had. After a great goalscoring period with Scunthorpe, Sharp didn’t settle for Sheffield United in the two seasons he spent at Bramall Lane. He signed on a season-long loan for Doncaster in the 2009/2010 season in the summer transfer window deadline day. Literally with minutes to go, Sharp put pen to paper in a bid to spark his career back to life.
He was instantly transformed into a crowd favourite for the Rovers, with a standing ovation on his first appearance at Reading when he was brought on as a late substitute. That season, he scored a remarkable 15 goals and could have got more had his campaign not been ended early through injury. This was enough for Doncaster chairman John Ryan to pursue Sharp in the summer of 2010 and, after rejecting Burnley, it was announced shortly after that he had signed for Doncaster Rovers for a club record £1.15 million. This season Sharp has been deadly in front of goal, scoring 16 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions so far.
This spot could easily have gone to Richie Wellens or Matthew Mills, but both spent a very similar time at the club and didn’t last over two seasons. Club captain and midfield maestro Brian Stock takes the place. Signing for Doncaster in January 2007 from Preston North End after a loan spell in 2006, Stock helped the club to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in April 2007, the club’s first final and trophy as a Football League club.
Stock is now recognised as an everpresent in the middle of the park for Doncaster, and he can also play in a more attacking midfield position where he can cause a threat to the opposition. He has scored many goals for Doncaster from outside the box but has adapted to an anchorman role just in the front of the back four. His ability has been recognised by many clubs showing interest, and also led to him getting called up to play for his country, Wales, starting against Russia in 2009.
One of the longest serving players for the club, Paul Green joined Doncaster Rovers as a trainee, with Doncaster his first professional club in 2001 at the age of 18. He made his debut against Northwich Victoria. Starting in the Conference, he remained in the side and helped the club to win three promotions in five years. Green has also scored for Doncaster in three different leagues (Conference, League Two and League One). In his seven years with the club, the midfielder made over 250 appearances, averaging more than 30 per each season.
The most remarkable thing about Paul Green was that he got to see Doncaster Rovers grow at the same rate he grew. As his side moved up the divisions, many players came and went but Paul Green was the only one to feature in the Conference play-off final, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and the League One play-off final. After the latter, it emerged that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Derby County and would join the club once his Doncaster contract ran out. Had he not signed for Derby, he could have played in all three divisions of the Football League and the Conference for one club. Despite his departure, many fans regard him as a great man and footballer and always have a place in their heart for this great player.
Arguably the most skilful player currently at the club, Coppinger is currently the longest serving player. He joined the club in 2004 and has improved greatly during that time. Coppinger is recognised as a winger, although he can also play behind the front men or as a striker. His biggest strength is his technical ability and this can be seen in his passing, dribbling and technique when striking a football.
In Coppinger’s most remarkable game, he scored a sublime hat-trick in the 5-1 play-off semi-final second leg against Southend United in a packed Keepmoat Stadium. He was by far the best player on the pitch – his first goal involved some neat footwork before tricking the defence to make it 3-0, his second was even better as he carefully picked his spot from outside the box after running from a wide position and his third and final goal to make it 5-0 was a spectacular free-kick which he curled beautifully over the wall and around the out-stretched goalkeeper.
This may come as a surprise to many people, especially following McIndoe’s publicity after leaving the club. McIndoe’s ability was on show against Doncaster in the Conference when he played for Yeovil Town. After both clubs won promotion in 2003, he signed for Doncaster Rovers in the summer of 2003 and is remembered for helping the club win the League Two title. He also made the divisional Team of the Year that season. The next season in League one, McIndoe made the step up and was the club’s joint top scorer, including scoring the only goal in a memorable 1-0 victory over Hull City at Belle Vue.
The following season, he made the Team of the Year for League One despite playing only half of the campaign. Some of his best moments for the club involve scoring penalties against Manchester City, Aston Villa and Arsenal. McIndoe also scored from open play against Arsenal, cleverly wrong-footing the goalkeeper. During his time at Belle Vue, his ability to play as a left-sided midfielder and cut inside on his right foot made him one of the all-time greats for Doncaster Rovers. Every time he collected the ball, a chance would always beckon.
What separated him from the other midfielders was how easily he could knock the ball past defenders and his precise runs into the box, with or without the ball. He could have shown Doncaster greater respect upon leaving the club, but he has paid the price since. McIndoe is still yet to settle down and re-ignite his career. Nevertheless, he is my choice as Doncaster Rovers’ best player since the year 2000.